Live Review: Hit The Deck Festival 2015 – Bristol – 25/04/2015

I always feel a little conflicted by the prospect of the run to Bristol, largely down to the ever-present fact that honestly, Bristol kind of sucks. Every visit seems to be accompanied by the same feelings that it’s the kind of place you’d build on Sim City to be as boring and bland as possible, so there’s less of an emotional blow when Godzilla attacks. The last couple of years, however, have seen something of a silver lining to the looming stormcloud that is Bristol’s entire existence; the expansion of the annual Hit the Deck Festival a welcome addition to the southwest festival scene.

Local grievances aside, diving headfirst into the festival atmosphere is hardly difficult. Syren City kick the day off at the Thekla, one of just four stages this year with the festival’s downsizing not unnoticed in the weeks and months that preceded it. It’s a solid start from the local post-hardcore troupe, and you find yourself wondering when the concept of “opening bands struggling” stopped being a thing that actually happened. Perhaps not a standout performance on the day, but certainly a reason to keep your ears peeled for more. (3/5)

If there’s one thing Bristol does get right, it’s music venues, and the Fleece is certainly not humble about the who’s who of rock and metal that has graced its stage. Our first port of call there on the day would be Dead!, continuing to build momentum and amass a well-deserved following with every single show. This trip to Bristol is certainly not a wasted one, with the young quintet on top form from start to finish, providing a perfect advert for their upcoming follow-up to last year’s ‘Tu Me Manques’. The high bar for the Fleece is set early today. (4/5)

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Ashes follow up and, on this occasion, it’s by far the discovery of the day. Nestled between Dead! and Zoax is never a place where you expect a band to shine but credit must be given where due and the Mancunian four-piece are a barely controlled frenzy as they thrive in an early slot. (4/5)

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Zoax seem to be on a totally different plane when it comes to momentum, however, and the Fleece is soon packed out with many stopping by simply to see what all the fuss is about. None leave disappointed. Characteristically unpredictable in his antics, frontman Adam Carroll takes to the Fleece as if he’s lived there all his life, reasserting himself as one of the most photogenic vocalists around if just for the sheer uniqueness of the adventures. Naturally it helps that Zoax are magnificent musically as well. (4.5/5)

The hours that follow are a rather frantic thoroughfare of bands that follow Zoax struggling to really follow Zoax, and it has to be said that the mid-afternoon lull hits the festival rather hard.

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Allusondrugs soundtrack our first insurgence upon the O2 Academy, but they have certainly sounded better than this. Perhaps it’s one of those days where the stars don’t align quite right, but the Academy isn’t exactly bustling for a band that might hammer on a bit with the drugs talk between songs, but ultimately leave us with nothing but the comedown. (2/5)

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The mad dash to the Fleece in time for Brawlers is instead rewarded with Dead Harts, and perhaps it’s the venue or some other variable but this isn’t the same explosive atmosphere that met them at Camden Rocks last year. Neither Dead Harts (2.5/5) nor Oceans Ate Alaska (2.5/5) can hit the same highs met by the Fleece’s earlier arrivals, and the mid-afternoon lull claims two further victims.

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It falls to Hacktivist to save the day, and their set is just what the doctor ordered to kick the festival back into top gear. Tracks from their self-titled debut EP go down as tremendously as always, and the likes of ‘Deceive & Defy’ add more fuel to the fire that lights up the Academy for the first time today. (4/5) In the Academy2, though, Black Peaks are a different kind of beast. The six months since the band’s rechristening have been utterly packed, with the release of ‘Glass Built Castles’ emerging as a catalyst for what is shaping up to be a massive 2015. As sets like this one prove, every second is hugely well-earned, and Black Peaks are once again on explosive form. If not for the day’s headliner later in the evening, we would have the far and away band of the day right here. (5/5)

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Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, the arrival of Cancer Bats simply cannot be overlooked. There’s something special about viewing a packed out Cancer Bats crowd from a balcony two floors up, and for the first time today the Academy looks truly full. The set itself is riotous and is met in kind by a tumultuous crowd. (4.5/5) The Xcerts cast a similar spell over the Academy2 audience, though admittedly “impassioned singalong” is the effect of the Scottish outfit, as opposed to the sheer frenzy induced by Cancer Bats before them. It’s the comedown many need before the chaotic final hours, a respite of sorts but in terms of quality there is certainly no resting at this stage of the evening. (4/5)

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It’s time to start closing out the stages then, and first up is Frnkiero and the Cellabration wrapping things up at Thekla. The atmosphere at the venue is something of an obstacle at this point, and the Thekla is a sweatbox by now which makes it hard to stay focused on the band themselves at points. The set itself, however, is solid enough. Not a patch on their London show earlier this year, but Frank Iero’s new project is continuing to prove that there remains life after MCR for more than just Gerard Way. (3.5/5)

By now the Fleece is criminally empty, and Devil Sold His Soul are destined to miss out on the kind of atmosphere that greeted Zoax and Ashes earlier in the day. From a musical perspective, though, you’d never guess anything was amiss, and the band smash out their set with a force that wouldn’t be out of place at a packed out Wembley Arena. (4.5/5)

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The main event, however, is indisputable. A couple years back, Welsh metallers Skindred couldn’t sell out a tour where tickets were £5. To this day, we’re not sure how. Fast forward to 2015 however, and Benji Webbe’s tour de force are in the form of their lives, and the champions of equality through metal tear the O2 Academy apart in a well-deserved headline slot. No stone is left unturned as the back catalogue gets thrashed out with a purpose, and it’s hard to leave Bristol with anything other than the memory of Skindred lining up a sea of powder kegs and setting them all off at once with a truly standout performance. (5/5)

The organisation of this year’s Hit the Deck had got us a little worried in the month or so that preceded it this year. At the festival itself however, everything thankfully, mercifully came together. Even the rain that dragged down every increasingly laboured hike between venues couldn’t stop the day hitting some serious crescendos, and proving that there’s plenty of room left for Hit the Deck amongst Britain’s one-day festival calendar.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

View more of Already Heard’s content from Hit The Deck 2015 here.

Words by Antony Lusmore (@VilinskiKonjic). Photos by Carrie-Anne Pollard. Photos taken at Hit The Deck on 26/04/2015


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